This Land/Our Land: Getting to know Bella Hristova

This interview is part of This Land/Our Land, a music video project bringing together six young musicians from immigrant backgrounds to perform a new arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” The arrangement is by From the Top host Christopher O’Riley. Watch the video here.

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…the biggest excitement for me is being able to vote.

Bella Hristova on the Ferry to Ellis Island

Bella Hristova came to America from Bulgaria when she was 13 years old to study violin. We talked to Bella while filming This Land/Our Land in New York City. The responses below are edited for clarity.

What were your first moments in America like? 

When I first came to the states, I didn’t speak very much English, and I flew into Newark airport, and I got on the phone, I said, “I am in New York.” And the person on the other end said, “What are you doing in New York? You are supposed to be in Newark!”

And of course, I didn’t know the difference, but I managed to get to where I was going. And it was a great feeling of wonder and excitement. I was only thirteen, but I was very excited to leave Bulgaria and come here and study and play the violin.

What’s going on in your life right now? 

I am currently applying for US citizenship. It’s something very special to me, and something I have been wanting to do for many years. I have been here for eighteen years now, so the US feels…it’s my home…I feel at home here. I am going through the process right now, and I am so excited to have all of the rights and protections of being a citizen. But the biggest excitement for me is being able to vote.

So you’re pretty busy these days. Why was it important to take time to do this project? 

Even though I’ve spent more of my life in the United States than Bulgaria and really identify as American, it’s very important to me that I remember my roots. I’ve met so many great people in this country – some of them have had family here for hundreds of years, others just arrived. It’s in that diversity of heritage and experiences that I think we have some of the greatest strength as a country. The really special thing about this video is that we played a classic American folk song but are all people from immigrant backgrounds. The twist was that each of our national anthems were woven seamlessly into the song. I love the fact that music always brings us together into one language, and that we can all communicate through it. It was incredibly inspiring to be a part of this project, and to express togetherness as musicians who are grateful to live here.

Hear 15-year-old Bella play on From the Top Show 54, recorded in 2001.



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